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England U21s -- Strength in depth

Tactics And Analysis Oct 17, 2014
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Arsenal are England's supply line

Arsenal Oct 10, 2014
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Jul 23, 2014

Who replaces Steven Gerrard?

It suddenly seems an awfully long time ago that the idea of who should get the England captaincy created vociferous debate -- and apparent fallout.

For a long period, all of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could have felt both vindicated and aggrieved over various decisions about who should get the armband.

- Robson: Rooney can replace Gerrard
- Kelly: Gerrard's retirement the correct call
- Watch: Liverpool legends salute Gerrard's departure

Now, with Gerrard having finally been given his turn and retiring from the post, the only potential debate regards the general absence of appropriate successors.

Compare now to then. There are simply nowhere near the same number of prime players who automatically assume authority by virtue of their personality, position and career.

The main candidate is a centre-forward who has no real experience in the role but some questions about his leadership ability, and the only players who have actually captained their clubs have either too few caps or are still not guaranteed a starting place in Roy Hodgson's team.

It is an issue that has always energised England above all other nations and arguably says more about their recent football culture and history than anything else.

Some of the most memorable images in England's football history have not been goals or glory or great team moves, but individuals such as Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Stuart Pearce attempting to abrasively and defiantly rail against difficult circumstances.

Terry Butcher -- the lionhearted centre-half famously played on despite suffering a deep cut to the forehead in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Sweden in 1989.

Such examples undeniably played a part in creating the cult of the England captain, as Fabio Capello consistently found to his apparent bemusement. At the time when the Italian was in charge, the fact his own country simply awarded the captaincy to the most capped player was regularly brought up, but it raises another strand of debate here: When you look at the current appearance numbers of the remaining 2014 World Cup squad, it would appear a fait accompli:

Wayne Rooney: 95
Glen Johnson: 54
James Milner: 47
Joe Hart: 43

So, should Rooney be awarded the England captaincy? Here, we assess the candidates.

Joe Hart

A huge presence and someone with a big voice, as Brazilian ballboys have found out. Hart has also, for a variety of reasons, very quickly become one of the most capped players in the squad.

Crucially, he also has ample experience of playing on the elite stage, having already won a host of trophies with Manchester City.

The big issue is it is precisely that experience that raises the deepest questions about his suitability. Writing a recent interview with Hart in The Times, Polly Vernon revealed that his camp had requested no questions be asked about dealing with elite pressure.

That in and of itself may mean nothing as regards his performance, but it does feed into fair questions over whether someone occupying the unique position of a goalkeeper is too concerned with his own challenges to conform to the type of all-encompassing tasks the England captaincy demands.

Could Joe Hart handle the pressure associated with the captain's armband?

Phil Jagielka

The sole remaining starter at the World Cup who is also captain at his club, and there can be no disputing that Jagielka is a natural leader at the back. The only problem is that, while he might remain holder of the armband at Everton, he may not necessarily have hold of his place in the England team.

That could create a host of future problems for Hodgson were he to go with someone like Jagielka, only to then have to deal with the supposedly earth-shattering effect of dropping a captain. An unlikely choice.

Phil Jagielka might be a good leader, but his place in England's first team isn't even assured.

Gary Cahill

As an experienced player of stature at a Champions League club who has very quickly grown into one of England's leaders, Cahill receiving the armband wouldn't exactly seem out of step with a career that has seen such a steady development.

Along the same lines, awarding the captaincy to one of the starting centre-halves -- a position that naturally requires many of the attributes of a leader anyway -- would also be in keeping with the history of the role.

There's still a sense that he needs more caps, however, and that he also needs to grow into the more senior organising role of a centre-half partnership.

Gary Cahill has the big-game experience for his club, but he's played only 27 times for his country.

Wayne Rooney

Now the most experienced player in the squad, undeniably the highest profile, arguably the most talented ... but the most suited to the role?

The latter is the big question, given how everything else would appear to make Rooney the obvious candidate for such a status and the closest in terms of profile to anyone like Gerrard or Lampard.

The issues around the Manchester United forward regard his temperament, his discipline and a sense of selflessness the English captain is notionally supposed to have -- even if that hasn't always proven the case for previous holders of the armband.

A series of issues from Rooney's recent career have added to this -- some of his own making, others out of his control. He has sought to force moves when things haven't gone his way at Manchester United, but, when the club has been back at their best, the 28-year-old has so rarely been the focal point.

Those have all provided undercurrents in the recent debate about his best position in Hodgson's formation. For his part, Rooney did display a selfless willingness to compromise in the World Cup. What's more, even if such positions meant he couldn't excel, it isn't like he shirks responsibility. He still tries, still works.

In some ways, that has been arguably his biggest problem. Where more economical movement would do for a player of his talent, he attempts to exert control.

Wayne Rooney, despite some flaws, remains England's only real candidate as Steven Gerrard's successor.

A clear example was Manchester United's defeat to West Brom back in September 2013, when he was one of the few players who seemed capable and completely willing to turn it around. Rooney may not have the voice of a captain, but his actions are often commensurate with those associated with the England armband.

He is also almost certain to start, and, if it is generally odd that a team would have a centre-forward holding the armband, that has not been the case for England. Rooney would be following Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer in that regard.

Verdict

It would take a move far bolder than any Hodgson has generally displayed to give anyone other than Rooney the armband, so that is likely exactly who will get it.

Similarly, if younger players would appear to have a more appropriate personality in terms of the history of the position, the Manchester United forward's career ensures he still deserves it.

There's also the fact that merely awarding it to the most capped player could finally normalise the England captaincy and ensure more worthwhile issues are discussed, as well as the prospect that Rooney could genuinely grow into the role.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.